Jack Rodwell
Jack Rodwell has been linked with a move to Manchester United for over a year. REUTERS

Jack Rodwell has emerged as Manchester United's top transfer target in the January window, after Darren Fletcher announced he would miss the rest of the season through illness.

Fletcher's prolonged absence due to a chronic bowel condition could force United manager Sir Alex Ferguson into the transfer market in the New Year, with the club worryingly short of central midfielders.

Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Fletcher are all long-term absentees for Manchester United, leaving Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson as the club's only recognised alternatives.

Rodwell is believed to feature highly on Ferguson's January shortlist, as the Manchester United manager looks to strengthen an area of his squad woefully understaffed since Paul Scholes' retirement in the summer.

The 20-year-old has been linked with a move to Manchester United for over a year and Ferguson has been impressed with the Southport-born midfielder's development in that time; from a precocious teenager into a possible member of Fabio Capello's Euro 2012 finals squad.

Everton manager David Moyes is expected to rebuff any attempts to lure Rodwell away from Goodison Park but the cash-strapped Merseyside club could be tempted with an offer in the region of £20m.

Ferguson had identified central midfield as a problem area long before Scholes' retirement but the latest spate of injuries has highlighted how crucial the failure to sign Wesley Sneijder in the summer could be.

A move for the £35m-rated Inter Milan midfielder was abandoned over the Dutch international's excessive wage demands and Ferguson's belief the player had no re-sale value.

Meanwhile, Scotland manager Craig Levein insists Fletcher will remain integral to his country's plans despite being forced to take an indefinite break from the game.

"I am absolutely devastated for Darren because I know how hard he has worked to get back to playing regularly for his club and country," Levein said.

"He is one of the most inspirational players I have had the pleasure of working with. I spoke with Sir Alex Ferguson and Darren this week and the most important thing at this stage is for the player to be given time to rest and recuperate.

"He is a central part of our plans for the World Cup 2014 qualifiers but at this stage his health is paramount."